I made it to the Walden Pond State Reservation, the same day that I visited Kerouac’s home town of Lowell, Mass. It took a good part of the morning to make it across the hilly Massachusetts countryside, but once I arrived I was surprised as to how wild the place was and popular the park was on a very hot June afternoon. Back in Thoreau’s day the area must have been quite wild and teeming with all kinds of wildlife.
In modern times the big draw seems to be the pond, which has a bathhouse, lifeguards and a roped-in swimming area. There is a replica of the tiny building that Thoreau lived in, but I did wander over to that area of the park. Instead, locked my bike to a tree and walked along a portion of the pond.
In northern New England ponds are determined by depth so this body of water is much bigger than your average farm pond. It is probably several miles long and maybe half as wide. Despite the semi wilderness location there are transit trains that run to Concord and West Concord. The walk to the state reservation from either place is less than two miles.
I stayed in the park about an hour, passed on the chance to take a cool dip and then in the midst of the June afternoon heat headed west across the Bay State towards Vermont. It was a very hot day to ride.
This has been a summer on the road for me, for I have abandoned my Portland (Maine) apartment, stored everything of value in a storage locker, gave away my desktop computer and headed for the open roads, fields and forests on my bicycle. It’s been quite a learning experience, but more about that later, for after spending two weeks enjoying the June hostel scene in Boston I quietly left Beantown one night on a 11 0’clock train bound with a one way ticket for Fitchburg.
Actually, I got off the train near Acton and spent the remainder of the night underneath an interstate bridge trying to get some sleep. Sleep did not come easy thanks to the hum of overhead traffic and my stony bed. By some quirk of chance I found myself nestled near a deer trail, for I glimpsed several of the creatures during the course of the night. In the glare of the streetlights they appeared like strange silhouettes.
Sunrise had me up and on the road and around 6 A.M. to see what I could learn about the great writer of the road from a visit to his hometown. But first things first – I had to stop at the Lowell McDonald’s for a large coffee and two Egg McMuffins. I imagine the Beats might have done the same thing – but that is merely speculation on my part.
Then came the bike tour of the city. No pretty tour guides to leave a group of tourists around, just me on my bike with a knapsack full of personal items on a summer Sunday morning that was about to turn into a scorcher.
Next came the big factory buildings. I have scene a few of the old New England factory buildings in my day but this one takes the cake. The sheer size of these brick structures was mindboggling. If I was looking for an explanation of why Jack had left town – but the truth was I just wanted to visit the place. I spent the next hour or so cruising beside the giant structures, like I was a shadow in a DeChico painting.
Finally, I discovered the canals and the Merrimack River. That added a little humanity and natural scenery to the picture but not much. Still, the canals were the nicest part of the whole visit – not including the Egg McMuffins – I enjoyed riding past and stopping to look at the waterways that once powered this industrial dynamo.
And when I finally departed Lowell, I think I understood a little bit better the process the put Kerouac in motion and launched his writing career.
The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Mass is a genuine 17th century sea captain’s mansion and by some streak of good fortune cannot considered to be one of the many Mardi Gras-Halloween tourist traps that have come to dominate this once-notorious American city. Every October this seaside Boston suburb goes all out to celebrate All Hallows Eve. In fact, a sure sign that Halloween season is quickly approaching are the numerous brightly-colored outhouses plastic outhouses that line the street to accommodate the large street crowds that find Salen a nice place to spend the last day of October.
Meanwhile over on the north shoreline quietly stands the House of Seven Gables with an intriguing silhouette that mildly suggests some of the mysteries that Nathanial Hawthorne penned to the building. This famous house has been a non-profit venture, since 1910 when Caroline Emmerton took over the place and started the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, which has restored the unusual house to somewhat resemble its original condition with a few amusing exceptions that were put in place to match the storyline of Hawthorne’s popular novel.
For all you architectural purists, a one-cent shop was added on the first floor, as was a secret staircase. Visitors today can climb the secret staircase (it is quite believable, but alas not part of the original design) from its hidden entrance in the wood closet in the living room and arrive in the second floor hallway of the very interesting colonial domicile. In fact the entire house is an architecture treasure and worth viewing for that reason alone.
Nearby at the harbor, is the Friendship, a realistic replica of the actual ship that plied the four seas until it was seized during the war of 1812. Today it spends much of its time in the Salem port, but in the golden years of sail, these watercraft ventured around the world, trading as they went. These ships made small fortunes for sea captains like John Turner, who built the house in 1668 (OK, that’s a little bit early for such a big ship, but you get the idea).
Nathanial Hawthorne was born just around the corner from the House of Seven gables in 1804. His father was a sea captain, who died at sea when Nathaniel was 4 years old, and his grandfather was Judge Hathorne (Nathanial changed the family name slightly supposedly to avoid direct association with the infamous ancestor)who presided at the Salem Witch Trials and reportedly was one of the few involved who never regretted his participation or showed any remorse. So you it is easy to see that when Nathanial graduated from Bowdoin college in Maine and returned to his native Salem as a young man aged in his early twenties, he most likely had a lot on his mind.
The House of Seven Gables was Hawthorne’s second popular novel, following close on the heels of The Scarlet Letter, a literary effort that is probably more popular today. The Seven Gables is a story about family shame and redemption, a topic that Nathanial understood very well because of his grandfather the judge. Readers should realize that the story that Hawthorne placed on the seven-gabled house does not parallel the real-life events that its actual residents experienced. Instead it is a colorful look at the inner world of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the early 19th century.
Funky Salem getting ready for Halloween on a rainy Tuesday on the day after Columbus Day. I came here on a mild October afternoon to kill some time before an evening educational event that I was suppose to attend in Boston. This storefront caught my attention and I suppose the colorful mood sets the tone for the craziness that this place sees in the weeks that lead up to the unique Celtic holiday of All Saints’ Eve, more commonly known as Halloween.
However my main objective for the day was to view the Peabody Essex Art Museum. This I accomplished after laying down a hefty $15 fee and wandering through the huge halls and entranceway.
I have to say that I was not disappointed by my visit to the museum, and in fact I was quite enthralled by some of the exhibitions especially the collection of ship’s figureheads that were prominently displayed within the huge exhibition hall that made a good portion of the second floor.
Here is a picture of the figures that once adorned our fine sailing ships that ventured forth from places like Salem to scour the world in search of riches and fame. These particular wooden creations are some of the most intriguing creations that you will come across and there position here in the grand hall will take your breath away.
Salem, Massachusetts besides being the site of the famous Witch Trials, which the town still prospers on, was also the home of one of the nation’s first noteworthy novelists, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel worked in Salem during the early years of the nineteenth century as a customs clerk. You can still tour the building under the guidance of the National Park Service. At the cost of five dollars this is one of the best deals going for visitors to Salem. The original House of Seven Gables is also situated in town and that place is a good-sized tourist draw in its own rite.
But really makes Hawthorne so interesting is the fact that one of his grandfathers was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials, a dubious honor if there ever was one. The sentences, although somewhat popular at time of the trials , quickly became the subject of much debate, reconsideration and remorse. These last two factors became more important as time went on and may well have played a major role in sending Nathaniel Hawthorne on the road to becoming an important writer and novelist. A carefully chosen walk around town will verify this.
“haunted happenings” in October. These take place in October and the whole affair is like some sort of strange morf between Halloween and “The Salem Witch Trials”. Whatever the reasoning, the combination works, because people from Boston and all over New England come in droves to celebrate. Reportedly, the place gets very busy on weekends leading up to the “big day” or night actually, which falls on a Friday night. However, I was in town on Tuesday, so things were quiet, but still the town was all decked out for the “Night Before All Saints Day”, better known as Halloween. Still it was fun to wander around and check the place out. I had some business to attend to in Boston, so I left at 5 PM.
Instead of concentrating on the solemn history of the Witch Trials (more about that later) I headed for Derby Wharf and the Salem Maritime Historic Site, where for five American dollars, I received a grand tour of the Friendship ( a three-masted square rigged ship) the Customs House (where Nathaniel Hawthorne once worked) and the Derby House, where the prosperous merchant lived. This part of Salem’s history is quite extensive, but usually overshadowed by the infamous Witch Trials.
Why we are so attracted to the macabre, I cannot say, but this is certainly the case here in Salem.